A little about me, I am 20-something years old and travelled with my girlfriend to celebrate our anniversary / valentines day. This was my 20th cruise, and her 2nd cruise. I hadn't sailed on Carnival since 2000, but after trying out Carnival after a long departure from the line, I can gladly say I will be back.
TRAVEL TO PORT OF BALTIMORE:
We were traveling from Washington D.C., and since neither of us have cars we figured the easiest way to get to the port would be to take the Amtrak to Baltimore and then a cab to the port. Well, this didn't happen entirely as planned. When we got to Union Station in D.C., we found that our 11:00am train was delayed at least an hour. Because the gate agent could not give us even the slightest clue as to to when the train would actually be arriving, and because we didn't want to miss the cruise, we decided to take a cab straight from DC to the Baltimore Port. The cab cost about $60, and we gave the driver a $20 tip because clearly he would not have a return fare back to DC. Even though this was more expensive than we would have liked, it was well worth it. We arrived at the port at around 12:30pm.
This was my first time sailing out of Baltimore, and let me say that the lines through security and to the check-in desk are absolutely nothing compared to the lines in Miami ... in fact, at 12:30 there were practically no lines. However, we did have to wait for over an hour to board the ship in a very narrowly arranged seating area. During this time, we got a glimpse of our fellow passengers, and noticed the crowd was quite a bit different than the Miami crowd that we were accustomed to ... there was a lot of Camouflage being worn, lol. It was kind of a pain that we had to wait so long, but I wasn't going to let that get my cruise off to a bad start.
We booked early and got a pretty awesome deal on an inside cabin. A few weeks before the cruise I called Carnival to see if we could upgrade to a balcony or an outside cabin, and they told us we could upgrade to a category 4K at no additional charge. The 4K staterooms are considered to be "inside obstructed view with french doors" ... normally this means that you will have glass doors that open to and face a big bright orange lifeboat. The room was set up and arranged just like an outside room with a balcony, and seemed to be significantly larger than the inside rooms. We picked room 4122, which was situated right in between two lifeboats, and had a view that was only barely obstructed by a ladder type of thing. Otherwise, we had a clear view of the water and could even open the doors to get fresh air. We absolutely loved our cabin, and our cabin steward, Dolphin, did an unbelievable job! I wish we could have taken her home with us ... really one of the best cabin stewards I have had in my 20 cruises.
FUN DAYS AT SEA:
The first two days after Baltimore were at sea. The first was cold and very rocky through the rough winter waters of the Atlantic. The second was smooth sailing, with weather in the low 60's. Both days were sunny. We enjoyed a variety of activities during our sea days: we played ping pong, went to the hot tub, went to the casino, watched some of the "Fun Times" activities such as the ice carving demo and the hairy chest contest. These days were relaxing and enjoyable, but after the second one you were definitely ready to see something other than the ship. To those who are used to cruising out of Miami or warmer ports, do not expect to be able to sunbathe like you normally would during the sea days if you are sailing on the pride during winter.
I actually really enjoyed the renaissance style decor on the ship - even though it can be over the top in some places, there was something charming about it. We really enjoyed the lobby bar, it seemed to be the bar to be seen at and always was the most crowded. We usually enjoyed a pre-dinner drink here while listening to some live music. The other bars / lounges had a very similar vibe, and were used for a variety of activities. The Ivory Piano Bar was unfortunately a bit of a disappointment: always very smoky and seemed to be filled with obnoxious drunk folks. The pianist was okay - not great, but okay. The sports bar was nice, as was the florentine bar. Didn't really spend any time in the rafael lounge, this seemed to be where they did the art auctions. A really nice area to just open a book and read / relax was the area by the Piazza Cafe / Sushi Bar. Overall, I was very happy and impressed with the Public Rooms.
Kirk, the cruise director, was great! He was very funny, very entertaining, and very personable. We didn't catch too many of the shows, since most seemed to be song-and-dance type of shows and I usually dislike those. We saw one comedy show, which was good, and enjoyed live music by the amazing one-man-band named "Flashy" every night. Flashy was really "a party of one" ... he played guitar and sang over midi files and beats that I presume he makes, and covered everything from Disco to Taio Cruz. You could tell that he really enjoyed playing every night, and we made a point to watch him and applaud for him every night. He would usually play in the casino or the lobby bar. Flashy was hands-down the best musician / entertainer on the ship! He was so good that I decided to tip him at the end of the cruise! Don't miss Flashy!!
Two words: David's Steakhouse. This is where it's at, folks. You would be a fool to pass this up, it's one of the best values you can find. The food was unbelievable, and the atmosphere was very pleasant (although the seas were a bit rocky since we went on the first night). For a comparable meal at an upscale restaurant in Manhattan or Washington D.C., it would have cost you over $350. For $60, its such an incredible value and the quality of the food was much better than the specialty restaurants on NCL or RCCL.
The food in the Normandie was sometimes great, sometimes good, and somtimes iffy. Overall, I would give it 2.5 to 3 stars out of 5. Definitely not as good as the food on Celebrity, Princess, or NCL, but comparable to the food on Royal Caribbean. Service was always great here.
The food at the Lido buffet was not so hot, both literally and figuratively. The food never seemed to be at a warm temp, the buffet set-up made little sense (there would be huge lines at the grill because the cooks couldn't make burgers fast enough, but if you wanted just chicken or fries you would have to still wait in these huge slowly moving lines - makes no sense!) However, the buffet was always convenient, so we still ate here for breakfast and lunch most days. The pizza was always good, as was the asian food.
Make sure that you do not miss the Sushi Bar, every night between 5 - 8:15pm. We stopped by every night for a pre-dinner appetizer, and really liked the fact that you could get as much as you would like and there was no additional charge for the Sushi Bar. Good job, Carnival!
Port Canaveral: we did the Airboats and Alligators tour, and definitely enjoyed it. Our guide was a colorful local who guided us around the marshlands to see all sorts of wildlife. We got to see a nice large gator in the wild, as well as some great white egrets, blue herons, and a ton of wild cattle. Fun time, and very educational! I would definitely recommend this tour.
Nassau: At first we decided to not do an excursion for this port, since the last time I was there I remember there being a lot to do. There is a lot of shopping around the port, but besides that you really need a tour guide to show you the highlights of the city. We shopped and saw Atlantis in the morning, and then decided to hire a local cab driver named Aubrey to give us a quick tour of the island in the afternoon. I am very glad we decided to get a tour from a local, because it was very educational and interesting. Cost us $60, but well worth it. Warning!!!! If you plan on traveling on your own to Atlantis, there is very little to see besides the shops and the casino unless you get a day pass. This was a big disappointment for us, but it was all good in the end thanks to Aubrey's great tour.
Freeport: This port was surprisingly our favorite port. The island is absolutely beautiful, and is drastically different from Nassau. The city of Freeport felt just like south florida, but more relaxed and less populated. We did the Freeport Bike Adventure tour, which turned out to be the highlight of our entire vacation. It was a 12 mile bike ride through Freeport, and we made pit-stops at Taino Beach and Garden of the Groves. This was fun, educational, and a great value. For $95, you get a great bike tour of the city, lunch at a gorgeous garden sanctuary, and an hour at a beautiful beach, and shopping at Lucaya if there is time. I highly recommend this excursion!
Easy. Quick. No problems whatsoever.
-Surprisingly good ports
-Convenient for folks in the Baltimore - D.C. area
-Buffet is a cluster
-Weather can be iffy in the winter
-Seas were rough the first and last night
-Waiting over an hour for embarkation
Overall, this was a wonderful time, and I would recommend it to anyone in the mid-atlantic looking for a fun and relaxing vacation. Would I travel from far away to go on the Pride out of Baltimore? Probably not. Would I have enjoyed this vacation as much if I had expected it to be just like a Celebrity or Princess cruise? Probably not. But as long as you go in with a fun spirit and want to have a good time, you will get one. Great job, Carnival Pride!